Having gone to the drug store and perused the various hockey publications and all their expert predictions, I am now in a position to make my own. Interestingly, my take is exactly the same as everyone else’s and it won’t cost 10-15 bucks to find it out: if the Leafs get goaltending, they’ll be fine. If they don’t, they’re hosed. This means that they’re in basically the same boat as about 20 other teams.
All of which makes it a little odd that they’d monkey with their goaltender.
James Reimer was fantastic last season, giving the Leafs high-end goaltending for the first time since the lockout. Had they figured out he could do this some time prior to January, they might even have played playoff games last year.
There should have been but one objective this off-season: Don’t break Reimer.
When I heard that Reimer had lost 20 pounds this summer, I found that odd. He didn’t appear to be a guy that particularly needed that. His play was great, and it’s not like he was noticeably portly. When I heard that the weight loss was at coach Ron Wilson’s request, I was quite surprised. Wilson (via Blair, it’s not like I have a direct line to Ron Wilson) felt that he would gain in flexiblility and quickness, which would be great if these were noted deficiencies in Reimer’s game.
In training camp, Reimer looked OK at best. There seemed to be some issues with rebound control and I wonder whether any of it was related to him getting used to working with a body that behaves differently. There is precious little time in the preseason to make real adjustments and I’m hoping this isn’t something that will carry into the season. (Preseason isn’t always a good indicator. Ed Belfour was horrific in his first Leaf camp, but opened with a shutout in Pittsburgh and never looked back.)
You have to go back a ways, but the Leafs once got great mileage out of putting their goaltender on a diet. Turk Broda was always kind of chunky, and in 1949-50 Conn Smythe put him on a strict regimen and announced he wouldn’t play again until he hit a certain target weight. The papers followed it religiously, giving day to day updates on what Turk was eating and when the big day came there were five-inch headlines screaming “Broda hits 190!”
Now, when I say mileage, it’s really publicity I’m talking about, since it didn’t do much of anything for the team. 1949-50 was the only year between 1946-47 and 1950-1951 that the Leafs didn’t win the Cup (yes, some extenuating circumstances were in play) and Broda was never much the same afterwards, playing just half of ’50-51 and a handful of games after that (he was also getting rather old for hockey).
It wasn’t Broda who immediately came to mind when I heard this, though. It was Terry Sawchuk. Terry was a pretty jovial sort when he first came into the league and a tad on the roly-poly side. When he showed up to camp one year at over 200 lbs, Wings coach Jack Adams ordered him to lose weight. The problem was that once it started to go, it kept going. For the rest of his life, Terry was this kind of gaunt-looking figure and the jovial kid was replaced by a pretty irritable, taciturn guy whose nerves were always frayed. He remained one of the greats of the game, but you have to wonder how things might have played out had he been left alone.
Anyhow, I have resolved this season not to worry about who the sixth defenseman is or who they get to take the odd faceoff on the fourth line. It isn’t really relevant. All that really matters is the goaltending and I hope we haven’t messed with something best left alone. We’ll get a sense tonight.
(Now, if you think I should have a Reimer card somewhere, you’d be right. I do. If you think I would have planned far enough ahead to have it scanned and ready, well, you’d be wrong.)